Monday, September 18, 2017

Venezuelan gov't, opposition talking about negotiations (Sept. 18, 2017)

Venezuela's government and opposition coalition are having pre-negotiation discussions on several key issues, though the talks are flying well beneath the radar for now, reports Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

Both sides sent delegations to Santo Domingo to start discussing a negotiated solution to the country's political crisis, reports Reuters. Though President Nicolás Maduro predicted the foreign mediated efforts would soon yield an agreement, the opposition MUD coalition stressed that the talks were only "exploratory" and would not proceed without firm guarantees of democratic change. After failed negotiations last year, the opposition is seeking "iron clad" guarantees this time around, including a date for next year's presidential election, freedom for jailed political activists, and respect for the opposition-led National Assembly.

Information is limited because the opposition paid heavy political costs for failed dialogue processes in 2014 and 2016, notes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. But the MUD's demands also include guarantees for a fair electoral process for next year's presidential elections. And they stated support for any eventual agreement to be approved by popular referendum.

Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina said Mexico, Chile, Bolivia and Nicaragua would join a new round of talks on Sept. 27, with two other countries to be defined. The Democratic Unity coalition said on Saturday one of those was Paraguay. Mexico and Chile have been critical of the government, while Bolivia and Nicaragua are staunch allies, notes Reuters.

It's not clear if the government and opposition delegates spoke face-to-face or exchanged messages through Medina and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, reports the Associated Press.

This weekend U.N. Secretary General António Guterres congratulated Medina for his leadership on the issue, reports EFE.

Unlike on previous occasions, the Maduro government might be pressured into participating in good faith by the threat of potential European Union sanctions, notes Ramsey.

On Sunday, Maduro claimed there have been hundreds of meetings between the government and opposition leaders, saying key leaders including National Assembly President Julio Borges, MUD Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup, Leopoldo López (who is still under house arrest), reports Efecto Cocuyo. He said he opened the possibility of incorporating between 50 and 100 opposition representatives to the Constituent Assembly, an offer eventually rejected by the opposition.

López, who is prohibited from speaking to the media, denied the meetings vía Twitter, but said he favored a negotiated solution, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Separately, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has appointed three international experts to assess whether the situation in Venezuela should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for consideration. Information gathering will be supervised by former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. The process will include public hearings to be conducted at OAS headquarters and information submitted by more than 50 organizations that have been conducting research and/or investigating circumstances of the crisis in Venezuela. The information obtained will contribute to a final report, to be reviewed by the independent panel for recommendation to the Secretary General. The OAS cannot institutionally send a case to the ICC, but any one of its 28 member states can, reports EFE. In the 15 years the ICC has functioned, no country has denounced another yet, as permitted by the Rome Statute.

Trump is reportedly having a LatAm dinner in Trump Tower tonight, ahead of this week's United Nations General Assembly meeting. The presidents of Brazil and Colombia will be present, and Venezuela's crisis is one of the main topics on the agenda, reports El País.

Opposition party Primero Justicia denounced that a jailed official died under arrest with the Sebin, after not being permitted access to medical attention, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Shortages in Venezuela have eased somewhat, but price-controlled basic items remain unobtainable, and the prices for the rest remain out of reach for most people, reports Bloomberg.

News Briefs
  • Social protests in Guatemala forced legislators to backtrack on an ill-advised attempt to shield themselves from potential corruption sentences on Friday, reports El País. Lawmakers unanimously voted to repeal measures modifying the Penal Code that would have allowed jail sentences of up to 10 years for corruption to be commuted with a fine. But the apology wasn't enough, and lawmakers went from congratulating themselves on "listening to the people" to having to be evacuated from Congress by security officials amid crowds demanding their resignation, reports Nómada. Though lawmakers found themselves confined to the building, the protesters were mostly peaceful and family oriented, notes Carlos Dada in El Faro. (See Friday's post.)
  • But President Jimmy Morales isn't backing down from his conflict with the U.N. anti-corruption commission head Iván Velásquez. Guatemala activated a conflict mediation mechanism in the U.N., the formal way of attempting to force Velásquez's ouster, reports EFE. The latest move comes after a failed attempt to expel Velásquez unilaterally was blocked by Guatemala's Constitutional Court and heavily criticized internationally. (See Aug. 30's post.) 
  • Morales, who is having a "political suicide" month, as El País puts it, released a video in which he promised to return about $70,000 in monthly payments from the Armed Forces, reported on last week by Nómada. (See Friday's post.)
  • Guatemala's political upheaval comes just two years after a government was ousted on charges of corruption and a non-political candidate running on a platform of "non corruption" was elected to run the country. The reason is the underlying "corruption pact" responsible for running the country, argues Martín Rodríguez Pellecer in Nómada. Reforms and corruption investigations need to continue in order to purify the country's institutions, he writes, supporting calls for a protest on Wednesday.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski reshuffled his cabinet yesterday, swearing in more conservative ministers in several key posts, in an attempt to woo the right-wing Popular Force which has a majority in Congress. Congress revoked its confidence in the outgoing cabinet on Friday, in the midst of conflict over a teachers strike and a school curriculum that stresses gender equality, reports Reuters. Kucsynski named Vice President Mercedes Araoz to be the new prime minister, a choice welcomed by Popular Force.
  • A Peruvian plan to virtually connect isolated indigenous communities with medical services is bumping up against a small flaw: many of the target villages lack stable electricity, much less internet, reports El País. The Cuninico community in the Peruvian Amazon is reporting symptoms related to contaminated water, and have been found to have abnormally high levels of mercury and cadmium in residents' blood, according to Amnesty International.
  • Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean, the region is bracing itself for Hurricane Maria, reports Reuters. A hurricane watch is now in effect for Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, St Martin, St Barts, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla, reported the BBC this morning.
  • For those into visualizations: New assessments from the United Nations and Copernicus, a European Union program, show the damage to buildings and infrastructure on three of the hardest-hit islands: St. Martin, Anguilla and Barbuda, reports the New York Times. The destruction is such that some St. Martin's residents are wondering if it's worth rebuilding at all, or whether starting anew elsewhere might be better, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Trump administration is considering closing down the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, after a string of unexplained health incidents with staff members in Havana, reports the Associated Press. Of the 21 medically confirmed US victims, some have permanent hearing loss or concussions while others have suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall. Cuba has denied any involvement or responsibility but stressed it is eager to help the US resolve the matter.
  • A location manager working for the Netflix series Narcos has been killed while searching for places to film when the show moves from Colombia to Mexico for its fourth season, reports the Guardian.
  • A wave of homicides is affecting previously peaceful tourism meccas in Mexico as criminal groups battle to control trafficking routes in the Baja California Peninsula and for dominance of local criminal enterprises, particularly the drug trade servicing tourists, reports the New York Times, in a piece that focuses on gaping inequality in Los Cabos.
  • A Mexican rural school teacher won an award for his work connecting a remote indigenous village to the internet, but was denied a visa application by U.S. officials because he was unable to provide a street address and because he does not have a bank account, reports the Guardian.
  • Thousands of people protested in Mexico City in response to the killing of a 19-year old student earlier this month after taking a Cabify -- an app-based taxi service -- home from a party, reports El País. Demonstrators emphasized an impunity rate of 90 percent when it comes to femicides in Mexico, and called for an end to the daily harassment and violence faced by women in the country. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi) says five women are killed every day in Mexico, reports the BBC.
  • Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS SA named founder José Batista Sobrinho to replace his jailed son as chief executive, a move likely to disappoint shareholders who have called for outside management in the midst of a mounting corruption scandal centered on the company, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Aggressive processed food company marketing is contributing to an obesity epidemic in underdeveloped countries, reports the New York Times. "In many ways, Brazil is a microcosm of how growing incomes and government policies have led to longer, better lives and largely eradicated hunger. But now the country faces a stark new nutrition challenge: over the last decade, the country’s obesity rate has nearly doubled to 20 percent, and the portion of people who are overweight has nearly tripled to 58 percent. ... Brazil also highlights the food industry’s political prowess. In 2010, a coalition of Brazilian food and beverage companies torpedoed a raft of measures that sought to limit junk food ads aimed at children. The latest challenge has come from the country’s president, Michel Temer, a business-friendly centrist whose conservative allies in Congress are now seeking to chip away at the handful of regulations and laws intended to encourage healthy eating."

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